The opening race of the 2010 Red Bull Air Race World Championship took place in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, for the sixth consecutive year. Duncan Monk provides the final article for AeroResource, with a look at the race.

Race day dawned with Abu Dhabi shrouded in blowing sand as the infamous winds lived up to their reputation. The wind had changed direction and increased in strength, coming straight off the desert, which in turn had pushed the temperature up to a scorching 41 degrees, pretty much unheard of for this time of year. The pilots had flown all week with the wind from the North West, or a light breeze from the South East, and now on race day the winds were 20 kts from the South East, it would be an interesting day for all.

The Wild Card race got under way with Alejandro Maclean, Martin Sonka, Adilson Kindleman, Sergey Rakhmanin and Pete Mcleod all looking to make it into the Top 12. The final two places went to the experienced Canadian Pete Mcleod and Spain’s Alejandro Maclean. Russian Sergey Rakhmanin was disqualified for breaching the crowd/safety line and the two rookies amassed in excess of 20 seconds in penalties each.

With the Top 12 line up finalised, the competition finally got under way, but there was to be plenty of twists and turns. Alejandro Maclean, who had been unable to take part in qualifying on Friday due to a technical infringement (under weight aircraft), couldn’t take part in the Top12 due to a fuel pump failure on his way back to the Red Bull Airport, which left only 3 pilots to be eliminated.

Japan’s Muroya Yoshihide and Frenchman Nicolas Ivanoff were both out after racking up 8 seconds in penalties a piece for touching a gate and incorrect knife flying. American Michael Goulian was in the dropout zone as race favourite, and last of the top 12 to fly, Hannes Arch was cleared into the track. No one could have predicted what was to come.

Coming through gate 6, the wind appeared to catch the Austrians Edge 540, forcing him a little lower than normal, and the judges disqualified him immediately for dangerous (low) flying. There was a stunned silence that fell over the massive crowd, and it was obvious the Team Abu Dhabi pilot felt wronged. “Yes it will hurt my championship bid but it affects the whole spirit of the race. I’m not agreeing with the call at all. The way I have to judge is by what I did last year. I didn’t do anything wrong and it’s a complete joke. I was late at the gate and they should have given me a penalty. I think they are looking at something different to us; they are not sitting in our aircraft”. It meant Hannes would take only two points away from a race where he collected the maximum thirteen in 2009.

So with two of the favourites Arch and Ivanoff eliminated, it left the race wide open, but as the Super 8’s got under way there was yet more drama to come. Australian Matt Hall’s MXS-R had been playing up all week, and failed to start meaning he would finish in 8th place overall. “We are running so much equipment in the aircraft that our battery just can’t keep up,” explained a deflated Hall back at the hangar, settling for 4 points in the first race of the season. “We just couldn’t start the plane. I think I could have easily made the Final 4 today with how I was flying and everyone else being knocked out”.

German Matthias Dolderer and American Kirby Chambliss were also disqualified for dangerous (low) flying with the latter getting his wing within a metre of the water.  Chambliss took the hit on the chin for the low flying call saying he couldn’t explain why he’d made such a schoolboy error. “I don’t know what was going on out there today,” he said. “Maybe it was just too hot and we weren’t thinking properly; maybe our brains were fried. It was a silly mistake I made going that low but those are the rules”.

German ace Dolderer was equally as disappointed. “I could have easily made it into the Final 4. The weather didn’t play a role. It was a flying error being too low. I must feel safe with everything under control. It was chaotic out there today but that’s racing.”

Canadian Pete Mcleod was the fourth and final pilot to drop out of the Super 8’s after getting three incorrect knife flying judgements against him, earning him six seconds in penalties.

So the Final 4 pilots were finally established. Great Britain’s 2009 World Champion Paul Bonhomme, fellow Britain Nigel Lamb, American Michael Goulian and Hungarian Peter Besenyei. After each of the Final 4 pilots have completed their timed lap, they go off to the hold and they are not told of the other pilots times, to ensure they give it their all.

The Hungarian was the first to fly, setting a rather pedestrian time of 1:21.40, although this did include four seconds of penalties due to two incorrect knife flying calls through gates five and six.

It looked like it was down to a three horse race, when news came from the Red Bull Airport that Goulian’s Edge 540 was refusing to start. This meant that Peter Besenyei was guaranteed at least third place. Goulian was left disappointed in the Final 4 when his fuel was too hot and the Edge failed to start on the grid. “It was a little crazy, for sure,” said a sweat-drenched Goulian as he walked back to the hangar in the sweltering heat with a DNS recorded on the time sheets. “I thought we were going to be on the podium so I was just going to go for a smooth ride. I knew we couldn’t catch Paul or Nigel. I knew that we were just trying to get a third place. When these engines are hot – its 105 degrees F out here – they just don’t wanna go”.

The final two pilots, who were also guaranteed a top 3 finish, took to the skies in a Battle of Britain race off. Team Breitling’s Nigel Lamb was first to take to the track, entering at a speed of 344.3 km/h, quite a way off the 370 km/h limit, he knew if he had a clean run he would be in with a chance of a much welcomed win. Lamb didn’t appear to hold back and finished in a time of 1:14.92 with no penalties.

That left Paul Bonhomme to try and snatch the win, which would get him off to a flying start to the campaign, knowing full well that his main rival Arch would only pick up two points. Bonhomme, in his immaculate white number 55 Edge 540 adorned with the Union flag, entered the track somewhat faster than Lamb, at 350 km/h. After the first lap he was half a second ahead, and the lead grew to 0.86 seconds as he crossed the finish line, in a time of 1:14.06.

As Bonhomme arrived back at the Red Bull Airport to cheers from his team and supporters, it was clear this was a massive result for Team Bonhomme.

“We’re just pleased that we came first, that’s the key thing. It shows the pressure is on and having this lead is a great head start for Perth. I was just thinking I’ve got a job to do here. I knew there were a lot of guys up there. I knew I’ve just got to concentrate. Clearly, I’ve got a huge advantage today. But there are a lot of races this year and a lot could still happen. What happened to Hannes could happen to any of us. It’s happened to me before.”

Nigel Lamb took his place alongside his British compatriot, clearly revelling in a sterling performance that gained him 10 points.

“What can I say… it’s been a long journey with lots of ups and downs,” said a relieved Lamb. “I have a great team to thank because it’s been very difficult to be race ready here. We’ve had lots of problems and without the team I wouldn’t have even got into the Super 8 because of all the starting problems. It’s been a great start to the season “Lamb believes the secret to podium success was down to dealing with the conditions in the track rather than just horsepower. “Today wasn’t so much about aeroplane performance it was about dealing with the heat and a completely different wind,” he explained. “It was more about keeping your nose clean and not getting any penalties.”

Third placed Hungarian and Red Bull veteran Peter Besenyei was ecstatic after he found out whilst still airborne that he had a podium position after Goulian’s DNS. After carrying out a number of victory rolls over Abu Dhabi that pilot returned to earth with a beaming smile.

 “The conditions were difficult and I like that normally,” added Besenyei. “If it’s too easy, there’s nothing to do. If it’s difficult you can do something else. It was difficult because the wind kept changing. Today was also extremely hot. It was hot for the pilots and the engines. The plane cannot fly as smoothly as it can in cool air.”

 Official Race Result – Abu Dhabi

1 Bonhomme Paul GBR  1:14.06
2 Lamb Nigel GBR + 0.86
3 Besenyei Peter HUN + 7.12
4 Goulian Michael USA DNS
5 McLeod Pete CAN 1:20.40
6 Chambliss Kirby USA DSQ
7 Dolderer Matthias GER DSQ
8 Hall Matt AUS DNS
9 Ivanoff Nicolas FRA 1:22.76
10 Muroya Yoshihide JPN 1:23.76
11 Arch Hannes AUT DSQ
12 Maclean Alejandro ESP
13 Sonka Martin CZE 1:39.78
14 Kindlemann Adilson BRA 1:56.57
15 Rakhmanin Sergey RUS DSQ

It was interesting to note that the winning time was over three seconds slower than the time Bonhomme posted on the first day of training, with the heat really taking its toll on man and machine. Four disqualifications and three broken aircraft are quite unheard of in Red Bull racing, and it certainly added another dimension to a thrilling couple of days racing in Abu Dhabi.

Once again the season opening Abu Dhabi Red Bull Air Race lived up to its reputation of providing drama and close racing. Although the majority of fans went home unhappy, as Team Abu Dhabi’s Hannes Arch was disqualified so early on, the overall feeling was that once again Red Bull and the Abu Dhabi Tourism authority have produced yet another superb race event in the nation’s capital.

Next stop for the Red Bull Air Race is Perth, Australia, with qualifying on 17th April followed by the race on the 18th April. Races in Rio, Windsor (Ontario), New York, Lausitz (GER) and Budapest follow, with the final race taking place in Lisbon during September.

The Author would like to thank the Red Bull Media team for all their assistance and free media information. A big thank you to Nigel Lamb for giving up his valuable time for the interview (see interview here) and to his Team Coordinator Rebecca Allen for arranging it. Offical race result courtesy of Red Bull.